Amazon KDPS Exclusivity vs Smashwords Open Publishing

Amazon KDP Select Exclusivity vs Smashwords Open Publishing

The great debate about KDP Select exclusivity

A recent blog post by Mark Coker from Smashwords has opened up a fierce debate about the pros and cons of open publishing versus Amazon KDPS (Kindle Direct Publishing Select) exclusivity, both on his own post and on an aggregated version of his post on The Passive Voice. Amazon exclusivity is one topic in self-publishing that can generate quite heated comments.

For those who may be unfamiliar, it is probably worth outlining what this debate is about, and not about.

Firstly, Amazon KDPS does not affect printed or audio books. Secondly, Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) has no restrictions whatsoever, so ebooks published using KDP and made available for sale on Amazon can be published on other platforms and be sold through any number of other retailers, without restriction.

However, for ebooks only, Amazon offer KDPS, but only for those authors and publishers who are willing to grant Amazon total, and I really mean complete and utter exclusivity for a title, for 90 day periods. For this exclusivity, KDPS offers promotional tools such as Free ebook Days, Countdown Deals, Amazon Ads (paying service) as well as inclusion in Amazon Kindle Unlimited, which is an ebook subscription service.

To be able to enrol in KDPS, it means that if an ebook title is available anywhere else, it must be removed from sale, and this is where things can get very tricky if the particular ebook has been aggregated to retailers by Smashwords.

As Mark Coker pointed out in his blog post, the failure of one of his retailers to promptly remove ebook titles, which is a necessity due to authors entering (and exiting) KDPS, it meant that he had to sever his contract with his retailer.

Rigid KDPS exclusivity puts pressure on aggregators

The reason Smashwords acted in this manner was not only due to contractual obligations but also because of the angst that can be caused to authors. Amazon enforces their exclusivity with an iron fist, and having received a few of their emails over the years; I know how threatening they can be when they track down a title enrolled in KDPS, which is still being listed by another retailer.

No matter how careful you are, though, once an ebook has been aggregated, it can be a very difficult task to ‘pull’ a title quickly. Having had titles in and out of KDPS over the years, I have to say that Smashwords have always acted promptly, and if a title wasn’t removed within ten days or so, one email to their Support always resolved the problem.

I must add a small proviso here, however, because I did a check before writing this post and found a couple of my titles, which have been removed by Smashwords from their main retailers, but clearly not from a couple of downstream retailers.

If my understanding is correct, Kobo on-sell their Smashwords published ebooks, and this probably explains why I can find titles listed on fnac.fr and easons.com and perhaps more if I had searched more deeply. The Internet is a difficult place to manage, so once something is listed, it can be very difficult to have it taken down.

The debate about ebook exclusivity is a difficult one. I have used both KDPS and open aggregated publishing on Smashwords for a long time now, and usually in combination. I know that there are pros and cons for both.

Without going into a long list, here are a few things to consider.

Open publishing via an aggregator such as Smashwords definitely gives an ebook exposure to a wider audience, availability on most popular platforms such as Apple, B&N and Kobo, and availability in almost every country in the world. Quarterly royalty payments are made conveniently via Paypal, but royalties can take some time to be credited following sales.

While KDPS exclusivity can give a title a sales boost due to the promotional tools, availability is restricted to only those countries that have access to a Kindle Store, and then, even more limited markets that have access to Kindle Unlimited. For authors publishing in English, this pretty much boils down to the US and UK markets.

Payment of royalties from Amazon is monthly and made by EFT. But be warned, this payment system is only available to a very limited number of countries. If you live outside the US, UK or a handful of European countries, you are paid by check, with awfully high minimum earnings before you are paid. Read here for more details about Amazon royalty payments.

I know that there are many opinions regarding KDPS exclusivity versus open publishing, and from my understanding, it can often be as simple as where an author lives as to how they feel about both.

All I can say in conclusion is that I have used both, and will continue to do so, but I must also add that every publishing service provider is a business, and therefore entitled to make (and change) and enforce their rules, and terms and conditions of use. Which they do, and often with extreme vigour.

So be sure about your publishing options, and do your careful research first. Nothing is perfect, so it will always be a matter of weighing up the pros and cons, and choosing what is best for your situation and publishing goals.

Update: Draft2 Digital also offer an alternative self-publishing platform. You can read more about Draft2Digital in this review.

Derek Haines

Derek Haines is an Australian author, living in Switzerland.

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